Fix for Williams Lake Dam Discussed with NS Lands, Inc.
by: Cathy Vaughan
Summer on Williams Lake – swimmin’ and chillin’! Hikers, bird watchers, naturalists and fishers dot the lake’s shoreline at the Shaw Wilderness Park. High lake levels make the lake much more accessible for swimmers, paddle boarders, canoeists and kayakers to get into the lake from HRM’s four community parks. The lake is active with wildlife as loons dive for trout, Canada Geese parade their gaggle of goslings, Bald Eagles watch from their nests and busy beavers are renovating their lodges.
“This is an extra-ordinary summer on Williams Lake. The lake levels are where they are supposed to be. We haven’t seen lake levels this healthy in many years. The huge amount of rain has kept the lake topped up to its normal regular level. But we know the failing dam won’t hold these levels for long so we are enjoying every moment, right now!” says Leslie Randall, kayak enthusiast and long-time Williams Lake resident.
Currently, lake levels in the popular Spryfield recreational lake are at their highest for this time of the year since 2017 according to historical records kept by the Williams Lake Conservation Company (WLCC.) But the disintegrating dam is still emptying the lake at a loss of 2 cm/day. This is the equivalent of 5-Olympic-sized swimming pools of lake water that drains out of the lake each day, all year.
The WLCC and partner organization Williams Lake Dam Association (WLDA) have been meeting with various government departments for almost 2 years advocating for a fix for the Williams Lake dam. Recently, Minister of Public Works Kim Masland asked Nova Scotia Lands Inc., a crown corporation, to meet with the two groups for a preliminary discussion on the current state of the Williams Lake dam and the safety issues with the dramatic fluctuation in lake levels.
NS Lands Inc.’s website describes the non-governmental organization’s mandate as working “with other departments and agencies to develop safety plans for dams and water control structures to mitigate against risks from severe weather events, such as flooding or breaches.” NS Lands, Inc. has experience with dams. They have qualified engineers and a dam consultant who can contribute their expertise and experience to finding a solution to the dilemma with the Williams Lake dam.
“This was an opportunity to discuss with NS Lands the current situation we are facing with the drastic drop in lake levels due to the deterioration of the old dam,” said Margo Kerr founder of WLDA. “They visited the dam in February when the lake water was overtopping the dam and they have read the comprehensive dam reports we supplied. We believe they will find a solution, however the timeline for the remediation is still unknown.”
WLCC’s president, Murray Coolican reported that “We felt it was a productive meeting with NS Lands. They are investigating the situation with the failing dam. They had read the historical documentation about the dam we provided on our WLCC website and we certainly felt we had an opportunity to express our opinions, suggest options, ask questions about the timeline and our role in the process.”
“We were fortunate to have had one of the original engineers attend the meeting, who provided WLCC with a report in 2005 on the deteriorating dam. He recently updated that report and provided a potential flood-simulation scenario should the dam breach. He was the specialist and expert at the table and could answer the tough questions about the protocols for a rebuild and he gave a pragmatic picture of what this dam build will entail. We still have a lot of ground to cover but we are at the right table to get things moving,” said Cathy Vaughan of WLCC’s Dam Committee.
Precipitation, evaporation and wind naturally affect lake levels but a properly functioning dam would ensure safe, seasonal levels for the year-round, recreational use of the lake as well as eliminate the threat to the fragile ecosystem and the unique biodiversity of Williams Lake.